The mask that you wear, that you might have on right now, is meant for your personal protection, to add some distance between you and others, and to afford you peace of mind. But it could be doing you more harm than good – it could be giving you a false sense of security – and it might not be helping those around you.
It’s time to stop wearing masks.
For thousands of years people have been wearing masks. It’s not a cultural thing, everyone does it, and it has nothing to do with a pandemic. We’re talking about wearing masks metaphorically. Today people hide behind masks of all kinds, from a false smile to going out with earbuds in and the sound up, to dark sunglasses on indoors, in the dark.
Then there are the emotional masks that people hide behind out of fear. For example, if they are insecure, they might hide behind the mask of name-dropping. If they are unsure of their power, they can hide behind the mask of being a bully. If they don’t think the world loves them, they can hide behind a mask of anger. People mask the debt they have incurred to pay for lifestyles they cannot afford; they pretend things are fine at work when their jobs are on the line; they pretend things are okay in their marriage when there is distance.
What masks do you wear?
One of the most common reasons people wear masks is the Imposter Syndrome – the fear that the world is going to find them out. It’s feeling like a fake, like they don’t really belong, they aren’t really successful, and they are not really likeable.
The fear is especially real for actors and comedians who are used to wearing masks for work. Many are terrified that, in real life, it will eventually be discovered that they cannot act and are not funny.
An L.A.-based acting teacher, Craig Wallace once said, one of the biggest fears of actors is “being seen. So many actors want desperately for us to know them, but haven’t accepted themselves in their entirety. When this happens, they leave out or hide the qualities they think will be perceived as unappealing or weak.”
Being authentic means taking off your mask. For comedian John Mulaney, “embracing how terrified you are is the only way to begin.” In a 2017 interview, the former Saturday Night Live writer said that on one of his first few days working on the NBC show, producer Steve Higgins asked, “You feel like a fraud?” Mulaney said yes to which Higgins responded, “Good. ’Cause if you didn’t, you’d be an asshole.”
Quite possibly our greatest fear of unmasking is that, if we show our true selves, the world will say, “Oh, it’s just you.” But being just you is actually the best and most perfect thing you could ever be. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”
There are practical reasons why we should shed our masks. For starters, doing so enables you to live to your potential. We have to bring all of who we are to what we do. There are numerous people who have our same skillsets, or maybe even better ones. But none of these people bring the same personality, creativity, and spirit to the job that you do. That’s something they can’t match. The irony is that we often mask that part of ourselves at work and lose our greatest potential.
It is exhausting to live an inauthentic life. You put on a mask or two or 10, then take a few off, then put a couple more on. It’s tiresome. Worst of all, you start forgetting who you really are. The famous 50s comedian and actor, and the muse for Funny Girl, Fanny Brice exclaimed, “Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?”
When we wear masks we withhold parts of ourselves, the parts we deem as unworthy. But in relationships, we cannot be truly committed unless we offer up all there is of us. Mr. Rogers of PBS's 'Mr. Rogers Neighborhood' said, "To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now."
Once you accept the vulnerability that comes with removing your mask, you will find it easier to empathize with the struggles of others. This might be how we have the biggest impact on the world around us.
Being vulnerable will help you develop empathy for others. We all have been guilty of getting so caught up in our own lives that we forget the world doesn’t revolve around our needs. Without masks, and with increased vulnerability, we will be reminded that many people – including those of differing races, genders and religions – face hardships that we couldn’t begin to imagine.
Finally, being vulnerable humanizes yourself to others. It makes you real and relatable and earns you the trust of others.
For many, COVID-19 – one reason we should wear a mask – became real on March 11th of this year when Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks came down with the virus while on set in Australia for production of Baz Luhrmann’s untitled Elvis Presley movie.
Wilson and Hanks are two of Hollywood’s most respected actors. They are real and relatable; viewed as two of the kindest people in the industry.
When they shared news of testing positive for coronavirus, a worried world looked at them with empathy. When Wilson and Hanks displayed their determination to beat the illness – beginning by following the guidelines established by leaders in medicine, not politics – the world trusted them and was comforted by their unity, strength and resolve.
Since then, Wilson and Hanks have overcome the virus and have donated blood plasma in an effort to help find a vaccine.
In 2018, Tom Hanks played Mr. Rogers in the film, 'Won't You Be My Neighbor'. During an interview about the movie, Hanks and Mr. Rogers wife, Joanne, spoke with ABC News about Mr. Rogers being vulnerable. Dorothy said of her late husband, "He was imperfectly human. He had to practice kindness."
What we need to understand about masks is that we are not born with them. We are born exposed and vulnerable. And just as we can put masks on, we can take them off. “The greatest battle we face as human beings" writes Poet E. E. Cummings, "is the battle to protect our true selves from the self the world wants us to become.”
Think about the masks you wear and commit to taking them off. Hold your gifts out to the world –no apology, no shame, no regrets.
The Masks That We Wear
By Susan Sparks